Blooms and blos­som in Tau­ranga

This Tau­ranga gar­den is one to stroll through, past the bub­bling brook, ponds, blos­som­ing trees and plants that sim­ply take the breath away.


Now is the best time to stroll through this breath­tak­ing Bay of Plenty gar­den.

Bron­wyn and Neil Tow­ersey liken the ini­tial clear­ing of their prop­erty to a voy­age of dis­cov­ery. A wee bub­bling brook, a tim­ber jetty and large rocks were amongst the trea­sures un­earthed. The dis­cov­ery didn’t in­clude many plants to ex­cite, but the Tow­erseys were well-equipped to add these them­selves. And so they have over the seven years they’ve resided on the Tau­ranga site in a sub­di­vi­sion hug­ging the city’s ru­ral bound­ary.

It’s still sub­ur­bia though, so their 6000-square me­tre site with ponds, tow­er­ing trees and sprawl­ing banks of blooms is eye-catch­ingly un­ex­pected. In spring the cherry tree blos­soms alone have stopped a pass­ing car or two.

The Tow­erseys have called a di­verse range of prop­er­ties home over the years, with most en­joy­ing beau­ti­ful bor­rowed vis­tas, bor­der­ing a pond or neigh­bour­ing a farm, for ex­am­ple. An out­look cel­e­brat­ing na­ture has al­ways been of ma­jor im­por­tance to them and now they’ve cre­ated it on their own land. It’s their turn to pro­vide a bor­rowed view to their thrilled neigh­bours – all the more spec­tac­u­lar given what it has re­placed.

“The gar­dens were over­grown and had, ap­par­ently, put off prospec­tive buy­ers,” Bron­wyn says, cit­ing bracken, big clumps of flax and a mis­match of shrubs as some of its less-than-re­deem­ing fea­tures. “We spent sev­eral thou­sand dol­lars get­ting rid of stuff. We got in the big­gest skip I had seen in my life, but that only dealt to half of what we’d cleared.”

Neil tells how clear­ing the site was the first task they tack­led once they’d moved in, con­sum­ing much of their first sum­mer there, and plenty of their en­ergy. “We shim­mied off a cou­ple of ki­los,” he laughs.

Bron­wyn loves peren­ni­als and roses, and the bor­der-type look of gar­dens. Favoured bloom colours are pink, white, lilac and green.

The idea was to clear the site and then see how the space looked be­fore se­ri­ous plant­ing started. One bank – close to the road­side – was com­pletely bare to start with, so that pro­vided a pleas­ing blank can­vas.

The Tow­ersey’s house is on a rise, with their land sweep­ing down to two spring-fed ponds joined by the nar­row brook they un­cov­ered. It was ini­tially im­pos­si­ble to ac­cess parts of the ponds as their mar­gins were over­grown with bracken and flaxes. Those were rel­e­gated to the await­ing skip, and an im­proved ac­cess and view of the ponds was achieved – all the bet­ter to view the res­i­dent ducks (Char­lie and Camilla) and duck visi­tors, eels, an oc­ca­sional shag, and large clus­ters of wa­ter lilies. Ad­mired pink and white lilies thrive in one pond, and a tol­er­ated Mex­i­can yel­low va­ri­ety in the other (yel­low is not a favoured hue in any gar­den be­long­ing to Bron­wyn.)

Trees were in­her­ited with the prop­erty, but not all have re­mained. Three enor­mous wil­low trees wept into the pond, but only one has sur­vived; the oth­ers met their demise via the black wil­low aphid. The Tow­erseys are happy the ‘Awanui’ cherry trees con­tinue to thrive and re­tain their place as stars of the gar­den in spring. Shar­ing the glory are ‘For­est Pansy’ trees, their spring blos­soms tran­si­tion­ing into beau­ti­ful sum­mer, then au­tumn, fo­liage. Other tow­er­ing trees al­ready in situ in­cluded an ex­otic mix of Mag­no­lia gran­di­flora, box elders and tu­pelo. The lat­ter, with its dis­tinct pyra­mid shape, is an au­tumn stun­ner. Tree sur­geons had been called upon to fell four robinias and some tow­er­ing oaks up near the house. The con­so­la­tion is the opened-up vista and the re­ten­tion of five ma­jes­tic oaks. The fu­ture of two large Phoenix palms is un­der de­bate.

“The plants watch over their shoul­der for Bronny com­ing with the spade. They know not to get too com­fort­able as she likes to shift things.”

Plant­ing was done in stages. There was no piped wa­ter down the lower reaches of the prop­erty, so wa­ter was carted in cans from the pond. While these days Bron­wyn waters the bor­der gar­dens around the house, the plants on the banks and pond-side don’t get this treat. “We planted tougher stuff that can han­dle drier con­di­tions down there,” Bron­wyn ex­plains, rat­tling off a list that in­cludes dahlias, Or­laya gran­di­flora (“like Queen Anne’s lace but drought hardy”), cat­nip, phlomis, lamb’s ear and vibur­nums. Maples – with their “gor­geous soft fo­liage” in sum­mer and re­tained good looks in au­tumn – go hand in hand with wa­ter, she ad­vises, so these too have found a home there.

Neil adds that it’s not un­usual for the plants to move from one home to an­other. “The plants watch over their shoul­der for Bronny com­ing with the spade. They know not to get too com­fort­able as she likes to shift things.”

Also to be found by the pond is the huge, at­ten­tion­grab­bing gun­nera with its leaves re­sem­bling ele­phant skin. “It’s a re­stricted plant now but I love its ar­chi­tec­tural form and shape. It’s fan­tas­tic by wa­ter as it’s a bog plant. It fills a big space and we’ve got a lot of that,” Bron­wyn says.

While the gar­den in­cludes va­ri­eties that put on quite a show in the colder months, Bron­wyn and Neil’s gar­den is re­ally about cel­e­brat­ing spring and sum­mer. Win­ter is the time the gar­den is put to bed, but that doesn’t stop the likes of oak-leaved hy­drangea ( Hy­drangea quer­ci­fo­lia) from flaunt­ing its rich rus­set fo­liage. In the warmer sea­sons it’s a show of long trusses of white dou­ble flow­ers. The big, lime green mop­heads of Hy­drangea ‘Annabelle’ also put on an im­pres­sive per­for­mance. Hy­drangeas, var­i­ous ligu­lar­ias, Acan­thus mol­lis, straw­berry fox­gloves, blue­bells and cam­pan­u­las are amongst the plants thriv­ing un­der the big trees on the banks of this gar­den. So too are helle­bores and Stachyu­rus prae­cox, both rated amongst Bron­wyn’s favourite flow­ers.

Bron­wyn also speaks of her love of peren­ni­als and roses, and the bor­der-type look of gar­dens. Favoured bloom colours are pink, white, lilac and green. A su­perb ex­am­ple of the lat­ter is the Eu­phor­bia wulfenii.

Rose va­ri­eties are nu­mer­ous, in­clud­ing the highly scented ‘Wildeve’, ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ and Neil’s favourite, ‘Scen­ti­men­tal’. The ‘Gen­eral Gal­lieni’ nearly drives Bron­wyn to tears. “It’s such a long-flow­er­ing rose. I al­most cry when I have to give it its au­tumn prune,” she says. The white ‘Wed­ding Day’ rose is left to pro­vide a rose hip dis­play in win­ter, and the ‘Sally Holmes’ with its buffy, blowsy blooms, sprawls across fence lines.

The Tow­ersey gar­den hasn’t been cre­ated at huge cost. Cut­tings have come from friends and fam­i­lies. “A lot of plants tell a story and come from ei­ther some­where or some­one spe­cial,” says Bron­wyn, who even has some from her great-grand­mother. Plants have been res­ur­rected

from throw-out bins and they’ve also been di­vided up and seedlings col­lected. “Eas­ily two-thirds of what we have has been prop­a­gated one way or other and that’s very sat­is­fy­ing,” Neil says.

They’re not ut­ter purists though, Bron­wyn quips, as they do buy their veg­eta­bles as seedlings.

Bron­wyn is well po­si­tioned to know about prop­a­ga­tion with a work his­tory rich in hor­ti­cul­ture, floristry, nurs­ery man­age­ment and land­scap­ing. Neil, mean­while has stretched his skills be­yond his po­si­tion of school prin­ci­pal – he’s the cre­ative force be­hind the gar­den obelisks and the bird-feed­ing table, and he’s been an en­thu­si­as­tic learner when it has come to dead­head­ing, cut­ting and prun­ing. He’s the lawn-mower too. Neil ob­vi­ously shares his wife’s de­light in what they have cre­ated.

“This is what we love,” he says, nod­ding to a t¯u¯i splash­ing in one of the bird baths dot­ted along the top of the gar­den where the view of land­ings can be en­joyed from the house. Wood pi­geons have started bathing too, Bron­wyn is thrilled to say. She re­cently ob­served one “as big as a Tegel chicken” en­joy­ing the bird bath out­side her of­fice win­dow.

The Tow­erseys cher­ish the wildlife their land at­tracts – king­fish­ers, blue herons, wax-eyes, fan­tails, gold and green finches as well as the pond dwellers al­ready men­tioned. At night, hedge­hogs scut­tle along, and more­porks and frogs are heard. And just be­fore these crit­ters do their thing, Bron­wyn and Neil can be found – of­ten with wine­glass in hand – en­joy­ing an evening stroll around their gar­den. It’s a peace­ful and rest­ful way to end the day, Bron­wyn says. “We look for­ward to week­ends when we can get out and work in it to­gether. It’s hard work, but it’s very much a labour of love.” ✤

How to visit: The Tow­ersey gar­den is open to the pub­lic dur­ing the Bay Of Plenty Gar­den & Art Fes­ti­val, Novem­ber 15-18. De­tails at gar­de­nan­dart­fes­ti­

Foam flower (Tiarella).

Pieris japon­ica.

Self-seeded helle­bore.

Rhodo­den­dron den­dri­cola.

Bron­wyn and her dad David Leaf, with Daisy the cavoo­dle.

The seat just be­low the house – a great van­tage point from which to look over the gar­den borders to the pond.

Blue­bells, aju­gas and ferns have nat­u­ralised un­der the ‘Awanui’ cherry tree.



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